The hectic holidays are approaching, but according to a study shared in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, you shouldn’t waste your time immaculately wrapping the gifts you bought everyone—they’re more inclined to like what’s inside if the presents are wrapped poorly.
The common assumption is that if someone were to hand you a gift that looks like Martha Stewart herself spent a week flawlessly wrapping it, what’s inside must be spectacular to justify all the effort. That’s exactly what happens, but that assumption can actually be a detriment to the gift giver because a meticulous wrapping job raises expectations about the gift itself, which more often than not, leads to disappointment.
To test this hypothesis, researchers and professors from the University of Nevada, Reno, who specialize in marketing, asked a group of study participants to open a gift that was either wrapped with immense care or sloppily thrown together. The participants were all specifically chosen because they identified as fans of the Miami Heat basketball team, but inside the wrapped gifts was either a Miami Heat mug, which would ostensibly be preferred by Heat fans, or a mug bearing the logo of the Orlando Magic. After opening their gift, each participant rated it by answering a series of five questions, and the results of the study surprisingly revealed that the sloppily wrapped gift was better received overall, even by Miami Heat fans who found an Orlando Magic mug inside.
To confirm their findings, the researchers performed another experiment where a group of participants was shown images of either nicely or poorly wrapped gifts and then asked what their expectations were of what was inside. When the gift’s contents were revealed to the participants (a pair of JVC earbud headphones) they then rated whether or not the gift matched their previously reported expectations. The second experiment found that expectations for the nicely wrapped version of the gift were much higher, but the gift itself was also rated as less favorable by those shown the images of the better wrapping job.
However, you might not want to do a sloppy wrapping job on all the presents you plan to give during the holidays. It could be a useful tactic for friends and family who know you already like them, but a third experiment conducted by the researchers found that there’s a better chance an acquaintance (where a favorable relationship is less established) will like the gift when it’s wrapped neatly, as the extra time and care taken is an indication that the gift giver views the relationship as important and worth continuing.
If you need to exchange a gift at an office holiday party, take a few extra minutes to make sure it’s done right. But when it comes to your friends and family, don’t sweat the crooked cuts, misaligned patterns, and bows that make it seem like you don’t even know how to tie your shoes.